Haters Gonna Hate

Comments about haters, or people who have no contributions other than to heap ridicule onto another’s accomplishments, are common now, but the phenomenon is not new. I would venture a guess that even when the first stone tool was smashed out of rock there was someone standing to one side, someone whose greatest accomplishment was rudimentary control over their bowels, who had something negative to say or unsolicited advice to offer.

Oddly, the greater the accomplishment seems to draw the most amount of unsolicited commentary. This is especially noticeable when trying to do something difficult. A certain amount of animosity accompanied my PhD when I was in the program, and even when it was finished I was treated to questions from colleagues at the university about whether I had actually finished the degree. Even while building my cabin in the woods there were those who questioned whether I would enjoy the bush, whether I knew enough to build a cabin, and whether I would merely injure myself and end up in hospital or worse. No accomplishment drew as much animus as when I was building my boat, however, although when looking closely at the source, the negative commentary came exclusively from land lubbers.

I built my twenty-foot wooden sailing boat in my sister’s garage, and although she was kind enough to host both me and my most recent project, she also treated her neighbours to the sight of my labours. I would often be working in the closed garage, and suddenly the main door would be lifted and my sister would be standing with one or two mute neighbours or friends who would stare like visitors at the zoo. Understandably, I found their silent gawking less than conducive to my work, but it didn’t happen a lot, and they were merely strange. I would say hello, and then they would continue to stare, and finally address my sister and leave. About half of them, however, would offer pithy statements about boatbuilding, and those are the hater comments that I reference above.

Over and above the oddness of the social circumstance, some had advice to offer. One man said, as I was truing up the ribs, “That’s not the way you’re supposed to do that.” I asked if he were a boat builder, and when he said he wasn’t, I laughed and said he must know then. Another man, looking over my partially completed hull with the huge gap in the planking, said, without a hint of a greeting, “That boat will never float.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I looked at the boat, trying to see what he saw, and said, “Not at the moment, but I have great hopes for the future.” He said nothing. Then, I added into the lengthening silence, “Luckily, I don’t get a lot of rain in the garage.” When he wandered off, I continued working.

There were many of these instances. One man stood looking at my boat and then starting talking about one ill-fated attempt I apparently needed to know about: “There was a man in Nanaimo who built his own boat. Ferro-cement. The first time he took it out he hit a rock and sunk it.”

With so little context, and no other social cues, such as saying hello or introducing himself, I had nothing to respond to other than his utterance. I wasn’t building in ferro-cement, but rather wood, and I had a hard time discerning what I was meant to take from his anecdote. I finally responded, “What about the Titanic. I hear that didn’t go well.”

“What? What do you mean?” His eyes narrowed at my statement.

“Sorry. I thought we were sharing disaster stories.”

Normally I never troubled myself about the people my sister inflicted on me while I was working. A few of them merely stared or talked to her, and without being addressed, I just kept working. When I went to visit Tara at work, however, I was to have a more in-depth encounter with Kevin.

Tara told Kevin that I was building a boat, and he asked me a few questions about it, and then he said, on the basis of the slimmest of descriptions, that it would never work out. A sailboat is difficult to build, and I would never be able to build a functional one.

In some ways, he was echoing my own concerns. I was no boat builder or designer, and yet I’d taken the task on. I knew that the boat might not track well on some points of sail, and it might not even be possible to sail it. I also knew that I could drill a hold next to the skeg and mount a motor, so I would still be able to enjoy my boat. My response to Kevin was doubled, however.

“That’s true. It could be that I will screw it up, but at least I will have tried to build a boat.” Then, jumping to the natural conclusion, I began to presume. “Of course there are those people who fancy they are boat people because they own a boat, but all they are is a loser with twenty thousand in their pocket. Any loser with twenty grand can go into a shop and buy a boat, but to build one, however poorly, you have to know what you’re doing.”

Kevin left the lunch table rather abruptly, and afterwards Tara asked me how I knew that he owned a boat. I’d guessed by his insecurities. That was the case with many of the older men who complained that I wouldn’t be able to build my boat. They had dreamed of building one themselves when they were younger, and they had neither the skills, ambition, or intelligence to do so, and now that they were confronted with someone who was doing it, they could only try to tear down what I was doing. When Tara said that Kevin had paid twenty thousand for his boat, I laughed. That was merely a guess. I was going by how he wished to appear as a big shot, and how little his shot really was. The figure I’d come up with was twenty grand. Small wonder he was angry.

The boat’s reception on the coast was completely different. Marcel helped me assemble the outrigger to put the boat in the water, and he was gushingly complimentary when he saw the way it floated right at the waterline. When I was moored and working on it at Plumper Cove, the park ranger made several positive comments about the accomplishment.

When I came into docks in the different seaside towns, people would stroll over to look at the boat, ask me if I’d built it, ask about the design, and in other was show an appreciation that I’d never seen on land. The workboat people, shrimpers and salmon fishers, were especially complimentary. They repaired their own wooden or fibreglass boats, and they admired the frugality of my build and the stability of the multihull. Even the long haul deep sea adventurers, the round the world sailors, gave me a thumbs up, and some of them took pictures which they later emailed to me. one round-the-worlder particularly liked the design. It was an outrigged main hull with the bow and beam of a Marshallese sailing canoe, the stern of a caravel in order to weather a following sea, and the Bermuda rigging of a yacht. I had several live-aboards come up to me with questions as well; they would talk about how they’d built the boat they occupied some twenty years before, and grinned to see that the tradition wasn’t dead. There were still people willing to risk the naysayers and haters, to carve their own path from the conservative pavement such people had poured over every living thing. One man was reading on his sailboat where we shared the cove at Mink Island commented, when I rowed back from the shore where I’d gone exploring, about how pretty my boat was. He said that every time a gin palace roared past, my boat “pirouetted” around on its anchor rode.

Perhaps the most meaningfully compliments came from children. My boat was bite-sized, and for them it made sailing seem possible. It was immediately apparent what the different elements on the boat were for, and it was small enough that they could imagine themselves sailing away from the world of adults into a pirate story. Two children came up when I was repairing some gear in Campbell River dock, and they sat beside me on the planks to ask what I was doing, how I’d built the boat, and in other ways expressed their genuine admiration. They stepped aboard at my invite, peered into the narrow cabin, and walked on the deck while holding the rigging. Only when their weekend dad stepped down from his plastic rental gin palace did they scatter. He plunked himself on the dock to join them, but that only served to send them running. He said a few awkward phrases, and then joined his friends and their open bar.

I take from the boat experience, as well as several others, the lesson to ignore and avoid the haters. There are enough people with real insight and knowledge about what we are doing to realize what a labour of love looks like, and who realize the haters will always be sidelined by people with real creativity, ambition, insight, and varied interests. Despite the barking of the haters, the caravan of people who want to be left alone to pursue their own dreams, however doomed or short-sighted, will move on and forget them.

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The Parable of the Man in the Cave

Suffa lived in his cave and every day he prayed that he might somehow win the house across from him. He imagined what it would be like living in a palace, looking out across the desert and even overlooking the cave he’d been born in and where his family had lived for generations. If he were in the mansion his life would be different. He’d be happier, more productive, have more friends, and enjoy his life. He wouldn’t be squatting in a cave with a houseful of family bickering about who needed to do the household tasks.

One day, the man in the mansion died, and the village was in an uproar. All were sure that the rich man’s goods would be distributed so they all came to the front gate and stood there like they’d come to attend the wake. But Suffa was called up, and as he stood in front of the gate it opened, and only he was allowed in. he was greeted by an ancient servant, and the man handed him a letter. He was now the owner of the huge estate. It was to be his, although there were caveats in the rich man’s will. Suffa could not share his house with any but servants, and he must hoard his wealth.

In the first few weeks, he was delighted. His family came to ask for admittance and he would meet them at the gate and explain the terms of the will. His mother came to complain that the rich man had been his father, and that’s why he’d inherited the place. She asked to live with him and he had to turn her away. That was perhaps the hardest. Suffa turned away cousins he’d barely known about, and they came up with their hands out for gifts, but his family was another matter. He thought about what they saw when they looked from the windows which used to be his. They imagined him living in luxury, and in the first weeks he poured hot baths he never stepped into, threw flower pedals on the floor to walk upon, ate meals prepared as if for a king, and sent most of it back to the kitchen. The fried fish from his cousin on the coast never made its way to his table anymore and when he reached for flat bread there were none to get there ahead of him and tear it in half to share.

By the time a month had passed he was so miserable that he began to research how the man who claimed to be his father had lived so long in such a place. He went through papers and diaries, until happening upon a set of photos which showed the family he’d once had. The man had been photographing the cave, peering into the windows at night with a telescope, and photographing them as they sat at dinner outside. He saw pictures of himself wrapped in a blanket against the cold and looking over the children playing, him teasing his wife when she was trying to cook, and hauling loads of wood up the hill to the cave entrance. It was a life of drudgery, he knew that better than ever now that he’d experienced possession of the mansion.

His days were taken up with signing forms, with government applications and chastising servants for doing their jobs too slow, or too fast. He was turning into the man of the big house, except that nightly he would pour over the pictures, and when the moon allowed it, he pulled the telescope from its eye on the heavens and looked into the life that had been his. His children pointed at his house in front of his wife, and even from far away her eyelashes were heavy with sorrow.

One night, he could endure it no more and he went into the village. He found the richest man in the village now that his patron had died. The man who all despised because he’d robbed those who traded with him, and throw his own parents to the street to be cared for by strangers. He brought the paperwork with him, and after asking if the man would take the burden from him, he signed over the mansion to the businessman.

The rich man bragged about how he’d convinced the man to sell. That he’d made a bargain that was a gamble and lost, but the man who walked across the broad avenue to his cave didn’t care. His wife greeted him at the door with the sling meant for carrying wood, and he took it cheerfully with his eldest daughter. On the way to the plateau he asked her about her hopes and dreams, about the way she imagined she would live once she were married and his age with children of her own. When she asked, he told her he couldn’t live without her any more, and that became the refrain when each person asked.

He never told them of the absolute misery of the legal confines of the will, about the endless nights wondering where he belonged and why he bothered with living. He never mentioned the musket he’d taken from the wall on one particularly dark night, and how in the morning his fingers were too cramped by fear to work the trigger. Instead, he said he needed the noise of the children around him. That his missed his mother the most, his father, his uncle he barely saw, and the neighbours who let their goats out when his garden gate was open. He couldn’t live without them.

The mansion was given to person after person as accident or misadventure brought death to those who lived there. Servants avoided the place, the windows were broken by birds mistaking a reflection for the sky, and finally, the place had deteriorated so much that the man in the cave applied to have it torn down.

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An Island Overrun with Prisoners and Soldiers

When William Golding imagines his feral schoolboys in Lord of the Flies, he thinks that they will inevitably shed the shallow indoctrination of the arbitrary and recently acquired rules of polite society and fall back upon their baser instincts which call them to attack each other. Like prisoners who weren’t lucky enough to have Jeremy Bentham design their panopticon prison, they run amuck without legalistic oversight, and the death of their friend is, in Golding’s terms, the natural result.

This view of civilization as a set of chafing rules and feared punishments informs much of our way of thinking about society in the west. If we have a Purge night, like the popular movie argued, then people will turn into berserkers. A loss of infrastructure and civil society in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road converts nearly everyone into an inarticulate cannibal hungry for human meat. The zombie shows and movies franchises are premised on the desire to kill the uninfected, for the death of mindless zombies quickly grows old for an audience who wants real risk and consequences. The message is clear, in the struggle for survival, civil society, comradery, gratitude, and generosity, are the first causalities.

The corollary to this, that humanity is a “fallen” species, in the Christian sense, is to put the blame squarely on our nature. This is a convenient fantasy for those who harbour their own nasty impulses and desires and would like to imagine that all others are the same. In a world that brought us the Rwandan genocide, so goes the argument, any chicanery and evil is possible, for we cannot escape our base impulses. In an effort to lessen their own moral burden such pundits point to the inevitable nature of their own immorality; to believe otherwise makes them culpable for their behaviour.

I believe that this mercenary way of thinking about humanity is deeply flawed, at least partially because it is not true. For every story of someone taking advantage during an emergency, there are a hundred where people have been generous to neighbours and friends, have reached out to help a stranger, and tried to ensure that the bonds of society are maintained and strengthened. To use some American examples, since this way of thinking has become the daily bread of American media, it’s worth remembering that disasters on a smaller scale have occurred, and the inarticulate cannibals did not appear. The World Trade Centre bombing of 2001, the electrical blackout of 2003, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012, are good examples of what actually happens in an emergency. In all of those cases, the anticipated widespread looting turned out to be a myth. There were no little streets hurling themselves upon the great.

The World Trade Centre bombing stranded hundreds of people in Gander, Newfoundland, once the American airspace was declared off limits to their own people for fear of attack. The flights were diverted to Canada—where, presumably no one cared if they were bombed—and locals opened their homes and gave those stranded a place to stay. They did this in Halifax when the Vietnamese boat people landed on their shores, and if the government hadn’t gotten their hands on the Chinese migrants first, I am sure people in Vancouver would have done the same for those who arrived half-dead in shipping containers.

Instead of widespread violence during the blackout of 2003, commuters walking home stopped to volunteer as street signals in Toronto once they saw the snarl of traffic. They worked for hours, and when they were too tired to continue, they beckoned to others to take over. Traffic kept flowing, and restaurateurs who still had power were assisted by diners when they became too busy to cope with the rush. Although 50 million people lost power for up to two days and at least eleven people died, the ravening cannibals did not appear. Instead, public buildings were opened to stranded commuters, and hospital staff worked in the half-light of generators to deliver babies and deliver care.

When Hurricane Katrina tore into New Orleans, breaking the levees and killing 1,800 people, hundreds of volunteers in three or four hundred boats rescued more than ten thousand people stranded by the floodwaters. A Canadian team of urban rescue volunteers climbed aboard flights and were in New Orleans a few hours later, and when they were asked how they arrived, they merely said they’d bought tickets. One Walmart employee risked her job to smash a loader through the walls of her flooded store, so that she could give away essential goods for those who had lost everything.

During Hurricane Sandy, people with power ran cords to their front gate for others to charge their devices, restaurants and bars in New York sent loads of food to New Jersey, and one doctor offered free medical care—which is both anomalous and particularly generous in the United States, which charges outrageous fees for even a doctor visit.

The main problem with the cannibal horde way of thinking about humanity in crisis is not only that such ugly ideologies of a rapacious humanity are unsupported by evidence, but that they might come to pass if the ideology gains traction in broader society. That is especially a problem in the United States, which has a significant percentage of the population that is both traumatized and trained to react to privation or an existential threat with violence.

The United States has more people in the military and in prison per capita than any other country. Although that is scarcely a point of pride, it does beg a profoundly disturbing question: what is the effect of this on society?

Although I have spent some time above on the ravening hordes which I do not believe fill the streets when a disaster strikes, I am intrigued that so little thought is put into how such a statistic about the amount of people in the military or in prisons might affect society.

Many people can see that having a huge army might be an incentive to use it in wars, and that with that many people in prison and effectively living off government money, that mercenary corporations will most certainly take an interest and try to boost prison populations. There is even more incentive to boost those populations with amendment 13, which allows corporations to take advantage of prisoner slave labour. On the surface of it, the amendment sounds positive, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States,” although the discerning reader quickly becomes aware of the “except.” We rarely pause to think about what happens to those people once they are released into the wild.

The United States’ active military personnel amount to 1,390,000 people. That is seemingly overshadowed only by the Chinese and Indian armies, at 2 million and 1.5 million respectively, but once those numbers are divided by population, however, a different story emerges. Those in active military service in the US make up .42% of the population, while in China it is .142% of their population of 1.412 billion, and in India it amounts to .1% of 1.393 billion people. This immense army, at least in relative terms, does more than eat through American financial resources. It also means that at any given time there are many people trained in violence as well as suffering from some form of trauma in broader American society.

Slightly more people are in prison at any given time in the US, which is 1,675,400, or .5% of the population. According to the Pew Institute, 7% of the current American population have served, and Ehrlich Law offices declare that 3% of the population have been incarcerated at some point. At any given time, at least ten percent of American citizens experienced the dehumanizing and often traumatic circumstances of either militarization or incarceration. That is a huge percentage of possibly traumatized people walking around in society.

This perhaps explains the statistic from the National Institute for Mental Health that lists 21% of the population as registering with a mental illness, at least in terms of doctor’s diagnosis. While those with a serious mental illness amounted to 5.6% of the population, it still remains a significant number.

Some would argue that the military is not necessarily traumatizing, although that view would have to ignore the fact that the military, as a matter of policy, deliberately traumatizes its soldiery in boot camp in order to break them down and make them follow orders. Likewise, although some prison sentences might be short as they are a punishment for minor crimes, they are served in the company of many people who we have declared as a society should not be allowed to socialize with us. That means that someone who has been in prison has been traumatized in a state-sanctioned system like the military, although the goal in prisons is a punishment model rather than training. Unlike the military person, the training of the convict is inadvertent. The ex-convict leaves the system to suffer similar discrimination outside the prison which matches his or her experience inside, and that burden of trauma is not even acknowledged by society let alone treated medically or otherwise.

In the case of the military, many people presuppose that the military knows what it is doing to the impressionable soldiers in its care, while in prison, no one really cares what happens to criminals. Society has already decided they are not worth worrying about, and therefore little attention is paid to making prisons safer or healthier mentally, let alone rehabilitating them so that they might become productive members of society. For one thing, the private prison system needs fodder for the machine, and that is necessarily predicated on a steady diet of criminals. Having such foxes guard the henhouses, in the form of asking a for-profit prison system manage the rehabilitation of the prisoners, is meant to fail.

When we think about soldiery we imagine someone risking their life to save us, to defeat an enemy of our family, and we think about them as a hero. We picture them coming back from war hardened, solidified, as though, by dint of their experiences, they’d become a more stable person than when they left. When we imagine those in one of our many prisons we think of them as being punished. The television in the common room, the access to books and playing cards are seen as unnecessarily luxurious, when we think they should have been brutalized.

We have a sneaking suspicion, which is based in real reports as well as movies, that they are mistreated by fellow prisoners, and in our hardened hearts we greet that news with glee. They should be punished, and thus prison rape becomes a stock joke for comedians and commentators, and a grim reality which is poorly controlled in the prison system itself. In fact, by ignoring the incidence of prison rape, the system tacitly allows it, and by ignoring the returning soldier’s mental state, we are complicit in the fall-out of their damage to society.

It’s worth considering what soldiers and prisoners have in common, for they have both endured hardship and likely suffer from PTSD. Some might say that the criminals deserve the trauma and that the soldiers signed up for it. Those claims ignore several factors, however. Not surprisingly, both soldiers and criminals tend to be from the poorer classes, and sign up or commit crime out of desperation. Therefore they cannot be said to have chosen what has happened to them, exactly.

As well, and this is much more important, we have to wonder about what effect traumatized soldiers and ex-cons have on society instead of worrying about who is at fault and what people deserve. This is a broader question about what we want as a society. When the soldiers return from either killing people or people trying to kill them, they are understandably brutalized. Likewise, the criminal who has served their time is accompanied by their own PTSD. Neither soldiers nor criminals are supplied with counselling, and so both parties, unless they take on the task themselves, are thrown into the streets with their lingering trauma and inability to cope.

It’s worth pondering what such an influx of potentially damaged people can do to a society, whatever the reasons they were incarcerated or signed up. When a group of people we have abused, who have been violent to others whether that was sanctioned or not, are released into broader society they bring all of that violence and lack of emotional regulation with them. They then can abuse their family members, neighbours, and coworkers as well as themselves. They become an infection that can destroy a society. Without proper rehabilitation for former inmates, counseling and mental health work for former soldiers, then we risk the destruction of society as a whole.

Some would say that we cannot afford to coddle prisoners, and that soldiers need to toughen up, but they are not considering the true cost to broader society. The violence which has been enacted upon those two groups was already in service of the myth that money is more important than human life, and that’s how many of them became soldiers or criminals. For a pittance of the amount that we would spend mitigating their actions once freed from their constraints, we might be able to prevent the damage they are going to do to their communities.

These preventative measures would be a form of self-protection. We need to consider how those damaged people will become a cancer in the body politic, and therefore take measures to mitigate that before spending even more money building larger prisons and imprisoning both soldiers and former inmates. Without supports in the society, they may both end up in the same place, and from there perpetuate the misfortunes which led them there in the first place. In the end, we, even if we have never served or been incarcerated, are the ones who lose. The world outside the prison and the barracks begins to resemble that within, as we ignore the plight of our fellow citizens and they respond to that indifference in the way that they have been taught.

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Bugs on the Bus

I was on the bus one time when a bunch of teenagers got on and, because of crowding, they had to stand in the aisle. As soon as seats came open, they claimed them, and then called to their friend that they had room for her. She archly said that she wouldn’t sit on a bus. According to her, “You can catch bugs from a bus seat.”

Her friends teased her for being such a princess, but the more I thought about her declaration, and the possible origin of such a myth, the more I saw it as a complicated and cogent statement about her class background. In just one sentence, she had exposed her parent’s socio-economic class, the attitudes they held about class and the poor, her impression of people who take public transit or who cannot afford cars, and what type of people were friends of the family.

She was going to public school, so she was necessarily hobnobbing with the peasants, but her parents had brought her up to be more selective. Just being on the bus was no doubt a cross-cultural experience, and one that she didn’t seem likely to repeat. Even when she was young, she would have had a driver, perhaps a parent, take her to school, for I doubt she would think that way if she’d taken the school bus. Going to the mall as a teen would have been cadged drives and taxis—if they weren’t too public for her—and she’d been brought up to think of that as her natural inheritance.

Perhaps without intending to, her parents have done her a grave disservice. If she is only allowed to move amongst the upper middle classes then she will miss the richness of human experience in the working and middle classes, as well as the experience of recent immigrants, and any others who take the bus. Those with disabilities who cannot drive, count among that number, if they cannot afford taxis or have family who drive them, and activists whose environmental consciousness demands that they support local transit. There are also the younger kids who have learned to take the bus themselves before they became teenagers, and therefore are hardy, careful, and clever. The elderly rely on transit as well, to take them to appointments and to go shopping. She will never hear their long-winded stories about their early lives, and therefore miss part of the panoply of life. When she goes out with her friends once they are of drinking age, she won’t be able to extend the evening with a celebratory bus ride home, and she’ll never enjoy the warmth that a bus offers on a cold evening in Winnipeg.

If her family should lose their wealth, she won’t know how to negotiate the city by transit, and will be tortured by a bus schedule or app that ten-year-olds find easier than gaming. Life for her when she’s newly poor will prove to be an endless humiliation, as she, out of necessity, rubs shoulders with those she considers to be her inferiors. She will be reluctant to ask the peasants for directions, and the bus driver will be too plebeian for her to seek an answer. She will reject conversations with lonely old people, with oddballs and hippies, and the other grubby coats and boots on the bus. Unable to make new friends, she will slide further into misanthropy, and her coworkers—as she strives to keep the lifestyle her parents have promised is to be her inheritance—will merely be another group of bus passengers.

The various codes of being a bus rider will be lost on her, and she will embarrass herself with more than her comment about bugs, as she refuses to sit when someone moves over to give her room, or cannot push past when someone is standing in the way. She will pay more fare, since she won’t ask how much she should pay, and she won’t realize that she can bring packages onto the bus. She will instead stagger down the sidewalk with her Amazon purchases, if she could not bring herself to examine her fellow passengers enough to know whether such a box would be allowed aboard.

Such phobias will naturally extend to other forms of transit, of course. Although the airlines won’t suffer from the loss, she will refuse to go to Mexican beach with her friends because she knows, deep down, that the people on the bus are the same as those on the airplane. Even if her parents make sure she sits apart from her friends in first class, she will know that the bugs could have walked past the curtain separating her from those with box lunches. She will sense that her seat has been reclined a thousand times by hands other than hers, and that the blanket, regardless of its plastic wrapping, has comforted strange sweaty toes and crying babies.

Ferries will rapidly follow the airlines in her estimation, and she will stay behind in Vancouver while her friends visit nearby Victoria. Their Instagram pictures of the wax museum and Empress Hotel will have to suffice, for she will know the ferry to the island will be crowded with summer passengers and in the winter will carry those who work for a living.

She won’t buy used cars, and if her friends don’t get their cars cleaned professionally, she will refuse to ride with them. The plastic wrap will stay on the furniture in her house, and she will be condemned to switch to new houses every four of five years. Any house which has echoed with another’s presence will be haunted by their odour, and a year’s steam-cleaning won’t remove the coating of grime from her fingers on the balcony railing, from her feet against the hardwood flooring.

Her spouse would also need replenishing, as they become tired and used, and she will eventually end up alone. Her friends with children will live in sties, according to her, and she won’t have them visit unless they meet in a recently-paved park. She won’t have birds at a feeder, will leave poison out for the squirrels, and will call the exterminators every month to spray her house. Her high thread-count sheets will be pitched after one use, and she’ll stay in pajamas every day when the outside finally becomes too chaotic and filthy for her rarified touch.

Her grocery deliveries will finally be too fresh for her, the vegetables a vehicle for insects to enter her house, and she will stop all deliveries except those which arrive in a can. Like Howard Hughes she will follow a careful regimen of scrubbing and boiling, until the cans are safe to open with disposable can openers.

When she dies, rather like Emily in the Faulkner story, she will be alone. Although her friends—knowing her habits—will imagine that her body will remain as incorruptible as a saint’s, the insects drawn to putrefaction will find her. Crawling from the crannies of the house she imagined to be sterile, they will join those which live on the surface of all of us—which she carefully didn’t think about—and feast on the carcass. Despite her best efforts, she will not be able to hold decay at bay, and her stomach gases will send their foul messages throughout the neighbourhood until the authorities are called.

When she is finally found, lying in state where she died—hunched over the sink scrubbing her house slippers, or in the act of pouring bleach on her dishes, or scuttling to the trash bin with the detritus of her house—she will suffer the final humiliation. She will be carried in an ambulance which has served a thousand people before her, all of them sick and some dying. At the morgue she will be placed with the others, and if an autopsy is called for, she will not be treated with the kid gloves that her parents have taught her to expect. Alone finally, she will be burned or buried, and so make some final escape from the dirtiness of the world.

Given this future, I think she should take a seat with her friends. She should damn the bugs and what they can do to her. She should chat, share her own teenage stories of woe and despair, and take part in the vast streamer of entropy which

will come to all of us in the end. When a mosquito bites her, she should crush it with one practiced slap, and then wipe the resultant carnage on her jeans. Join us, her friends are calling, and avoid the path to which you seem destined.

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You Know the Rules

Years ago my sister had both a cat and a dog. Although she was always kind with the animals, when the dog farted she would put the cat outside as well. As she did, she would say, “You know the rules.” Doubtless the cat was as surprised as anyone overhearing the statement, for as far as anyone could tell the cat wasn’t responsible for the dog’s bowels. Something about that short quip was endlessly funny, but it wasn’t easy to discern.

Although there are several reasons the incident might seem comical, I think the most profoundly hilarious aspect to it was the cat’s powerlessness in the situation. Despite having no control over the dog’s behaviour, the cat was punished alongside the dog. That such an arbitrary rule would be so arbitrarily applied to the cat was funny in a profoundly depressing way.

I found in the moment a kind of representation of our lives, in which my sister played the part of the arbitrary body, such as government or nature, which would apply laws or weather despite our behaviour. Although

those laws typically make sense, some, like the weather, are merely meaningless. As cats, we are caught in this network of arbitrary rules, and we are punished accordingly even if something happens beyond our control. Even the actions of our peers, such as the criminal who decides to steal from the library, has an effect on us, as the local government assigns more police officers to patrol—which we pay for—and when we try to enter the library we find it has closed early or we have to enter a metal detector. Someone mumbles “You know the rules” as we are left out in the cold.

Both the natural world and our society do the same to us. Fierce winter storms bear down upon our suddenly fragile houses, and our lives are blown away, or burn, or flood, in seconds. Some try to imagine some god hovering just beyond the clouds hollering to be heard over the gale, “You know the rules,” but most suspect that no such figure exists. They suspect that the natural world is the unconscious agent infecting our crops with disease, dropping snow on our laundry, or smashing our windows with hail. Likewise, in society we are subject to the capricious whims of others. Breakups arrive when we least expect it, a good friends suddenly steals from our wallet, and the lies of those we trust continually keep us off balance. Although we feel like they are saying, “You know the rules” each time we are betrayed by stranger, family, or friend, the joke palls with the telling.

The world around us is a difficult place to live. We are daily surrounded by the casual violence of the natural world, by intemperate weather and wild animals, by other people who conspire against us, by the stock market and housing bubbles, by the virulence of disease and the chance collision of asteroids on their interminable journey. That such casual violence will be visited upon us is inevitable, but knowledge of its inexorable nature does not make it any easier to contemplate. It is horrifying, the notion that our lives may be so quickly and meaninglessly turned upside down either materially, socially, or financially. We cannot answer the indifferent sky, even though we have populated the spaces between the stars with beings as omnipotent, flawed, and subject to whim as ourselves. Without magical interference, there seems to be nothing we can do.

We also try to combat the arbitrary nature by tinkering with the rules. If the mystical bad luck of walking under a ladder can be held at bay by walking back in the opposite direction, if a rash statement can be silenced

by knocking on a wooden board, then there is hope the world’s malice can be avoided. This proves as useful as hollering at the empty sky or praying to yet another version of an earlier god. We are left suffering the consequences and blaming others, ourselves, or the indifferent sky.

That is why we laugh. There is no way to avoid the pain, but we can share it. Our compatriots understand, for they suffer the same slings of outrageous fortune, and they have the same fears and anger. The only way to combat the fear is to laugh, to shake our head in defiance at the world which has thrown us out with the dog, all the while subtly blaming us that we tried to circumvent our fate. “You know the rules.”

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House he has one of his characters visit the monkey house at the zoo. There he sees a monkey being tormented by one of his peers and is overwhelmed by an urge to laugh. He is not laughing at the poor monkey, he realizes gradually, but rather at the tragedy of our existence. there is always another larger monkey who will hit us on a whim, and we can only laugh.

We do know the rules. We are not happy with them. We would like to overturn their power, but we also understand we are helpless in the face of their arbitrariness. The rich man wins the lotto while the poor woman struggles for food. The volcano which pours lava over a hundred identical houses spares only one. A toad which has spent an hour clambering up onto a railway track arrives just as the train passes, and the lone nail on the road hits our tire as if it knew we were late for the job interview which would shift the trajectory of our life.

We stand in the rain of a million misfortunes, and when the droplets wet our clothes the only comfort comes from the knowledge that we are in good company. In storms such as these, everyone is going to get wet someday. You know the rules.

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Honda Civic Maintenance from 81 to 99: A Personal Journey

Many older people often fall into the trap of believing or pretending that the world was better when they were young. They mistakenly presume that their nostalgia means that their memories are worth more than those who are young now, despite the fact that the younger people are creating their own nostalgic glimpses for later perusal. For example, nearly every page online that allows comments feature someone complaining that the world is not as good as when they were young. They are frequently answered with accurate statements about their boomer status, or quips making fun of the old man threatening the children stepping on his lawn.

My story is not meant to bemoan the complexity of modern cars—and at twenty-three years old, my current Civic can scarcely be called new—but rather to explore how certain verities haven’t changed. For instance, the mechanics of yesteryear were no more aware of how to fix my Honda than they are today, and my best tool was persistence, constant observation, and a kind of meditative resignation to my fate.

My 81 Civic was much easier to work on than modern cars, for it was missing many of the electronics that they are burdened with. Those electronics, the various sensors and solenoids, as well as the ECU, the Engine Control Unit make some tests impossible for the backyard tinkerer, and in other cases merely shut the car down without any information about what may have happened to cause the error. They have their uses, for instance the gas mileage on many modern cars is owed to the electronics monitoring the car’s combustion and power levels. My old civic was much more forthcoming. If I had spark, I knew to blame the problem on fuel delivery or the carburetor.

The carburetor in that car was already becoming complex, however, for it had three fuel passages, corresponding to the idle circuit, the full throttle open mouth, and some other function I never understood completely. That meant it was complex enough that when I had problems with it I contemplated taking it to the professionals. I stopped at a Honda dealership garage and talked with a mechanic—that’s more difficult to do now as well—and the mechanic told me doubtfully that the carburetors were complex enough that even if they installed a carb kit they wouldn’t guarantee the work. I was having intermittent fuel mix problems, which meant that I occasionally had to run with the manual choke on while idling, and turn it off when driving on the highway. It would be confusing for anyone trying to steal the car—a kind of early generation immobilizer—but I doubt that was the point.

I struggled with the problem for a few years, but in the meantime another problem appeared. I would be driving in cooler temperatures and the car would die on the side of the road. If I waited a few minutes, it would start again and run well for another twenty minutes or so. Looking for the source of the problem, I found that a kind of viscous substance coating the main jet in the carburetor when I took off the air filter cover. It would disappear even while I looked at it, and when it was gone the car ran fine.

On one occasion I was driving on the highway and managed to get off the ramp before the car died. My friend Darryl and I walked to a nearby gas station, for I was starting to imagine water in the gas and that methyl-hydrate in the gas tank might solve the problem. If nothing else, then the walk meant the car had time to evaporate the viscous coating. While we were buying methyl-hydrate a local tow truck driver offered us a ride back to the car. We took the ride, and once we arrived he snapped into sales mode. He pulled the cable from the distributor and told me to turn it over. Annoyed, I did what he asked, and then he said the electrical system was shot and that he could tow us.

I’d had enough by that point, so I gestured to Darryl to get in the passenger seat. I reattached the cable, and even while the tow truck driver told me the car was dead, I slammed the hood and got inside. Darryl was concerned. His first southern-Ontario instinct was to trust the authorities, and he’d suggested that we should call CAA. I told him if your car dies on the side of the road you have to fix it. If you can’t fix it, you sleep in it until you can. As far as he could tell, I was just being stubborn. For my own part, I watched the way the driver held the cable as I cranked over the engine. He wasn’t attempting to get a spark. He was merely playing games to drum up business.

I started the car, and then remarked to the man that the electrical system had repaired itself and before long we were on the highway. Of course, none of these shenanigans solved the problem. As the winter grew colder, the problem occurred more often, and I grew to realize that it was more related to temperature than any other variable. This was the time that I began to consult Thirasak Rirksomboon, my Thai friend who was completing his PhD in chemical engineering. He was more than regularly brilliant, and in one discussion he asked me about the gas tank. I told him how I had repaired it with gas tank epoxy—a quick fix meant to get the user to the garage—and then covered that with tiger hair, fibreglass epoxy. He pulled down a book from the shelf and then suggested that the vaporization temperature of the gas had likely changed because I’d introduced long strand hydrocarbons into it. The gas tank epoxy was breaking down, and the fibreglass and epoxy mix was combining with the gasoline.

Once he told me the problem, I not only learned a lot of respect for theoretical knowledge, but I knew how to fix it. I merely closed off the air intake with a plastic bag, which forced the engine to use the quick warmup pipes. That meant I was raising the temperature of the air, and compensating for the winter air I’d been drawing in cold, and the changing the way the gas vaporized. The problem was solved.

The other issue was more difficult to sort out. I remembered that the dealership garage wouldn’t guarantee their work, the carburetor was so complex, but I resolved that I would take it apart myself and keep track of the springs and valves I removed. I opened it up on the car, cleaned out the float bowl, removed and cleaned the tiny mesh screens on their plastic framework, and then put it back together. That worked for a while, and then I did it over when the problem arose again.

I began to watch my car more closely on my cross-country trips and finally realized that the problem would appear after the car had overheated. I managed to compensate for the deterioration of my radiator fins by adding a sub radiator using a heater block from a 1940s panel truck and then running with the heater on all the time. Nonetheless, on high mountain roads or in heavy traffic, the car would occasionally overheat and the problem would resurface. I cleaned the carburetor a few times more before I realized that the gas filter I had was ineffective, and therefore tiny pieces of rust from the old gas tank was entering the system. The little screens kept them from getting into the jets normally, but when the engine overheated, the carburetor got too hot, and the plastic—which wasn’t made to handle those temperatures and was original to the car—would warp and let dirt into the tiny jets.

Because it was a carbureted car it wouldn’t die completely, and in fact I believe it ran lean all the time for it got much better gas mileage than it should have—just over fifty miles for the Canadian gallon, 5.4 liters per 100 kilometres, or forty-four miles to the American gallon. With my augmented cooling plant, the car never ran too hot, and it wasn’t lean enough to damage the engine. It might have merely been an underpowered car driven sensibly, for that could also explain the gas mileage. I installed a new gas filter, cleaned out the carburetor and the problem disappeared. Soon I was worrying about the rear swing arm coming detached from the frame, and despite my and Randy’s attempt to weld it back into place, the car’s days were numbered.

I drove a few other rusty Hondas before I bought my 99 Civic for eleven hundred dollars in Toronto. It was a high mileage car, at three hundred thousand kilometres, but the body was in excellent condition. I began to undercoat it every summer, despite not driving it in the winter and keeping it in a garage for most of the year. It came with a check engine light which I was told indicated a problem with the O2 sensor, but I was able to ignore it. The gas mileage wasn’t as good as my 81 Civic, but at forty-five miles per gallon, it was fine. There were a few problems associated with older cars, like when the brake lines began to burst and I had my mechanic friend replace them. He didn’t do a very good job, and merely hung then beneath the car on zip ties, but at least they work. It was another lesson to not be so lazy and do the work myself. Likewise, the muffler fell apart, the radiator fan and front caliper seized up, and the distributor died.

In the case of the distributor, I wasn’t sure what the problem was, and I had the car towed to a garage when it wouldn’t run long enough to move in the back alley. They replaced the distributor, and I asked them to deal with the rough idling problem I’d had for a few years. I’d tried replacing the throttle body with a used one, and that fixed it for a while. Then I tried replacing the idle control valve, but still I had to either put up with the car switching to rough driving when I didn’t rev the motor sitting at a light, or try to keep it from switching by riding the gas pedal. They gave me a story about it being due to the throttle body gasket, but my four dollar fix didn’t change anything. Like the mechanic from the dealer years before, they didn’t know, and weren’t inclined to tell me that. Instead, they made up a solution.

I continued to tinker with the idle system, cleaning the old throttle body and reinstalling the idle control valve, but finally I resolved to live with the problem. That’s when a new problem began to surface. While I was driving on the street in Winnipeg, I felt the car suddenly run differently. It had less power, and ran rougher. The problem didn’t go away, and when I drove to eastern Canada with that problem—having the alternator die along the way—I found my gas mileage had tanked. I was getting closer to thirty miles to the gallon instead of the forty-five I’d been accustomed to. I used my mechanic friend’s reader, found out that the crankshaft position sensor had died, and once I was home I began the lengthy procedure of replacing it. Unfortunately, it was likely fine, for its replacement threw the same code. I began to check wiring, and found that although one of the wires was supposed to deliver twelve volts, it did not. I was just getting accustomed to the issue, when I was in eastern Canada and decided it was a significant enough problem—especially given the drastic increase in gas prices—that I would take the car to an electrical shop.

I tried out a venerable business, Craig’s Auto Clinic, in Fredericton, because they specialized in electrical work. The results were disappointing, however. Like the problem I had with the rough idle and engine surging, they charged me one-and-a-half hours, one-hundred-and-seventy dollars, and told me the wiring was fine but the computer was the problem. Perhaps the out-of-province plates proved to be too much of a temptation. Whatever the cause of their chicanery, there were a few red flags. They didn’t call me after the work was done, and when I called they claimed it was two hours work. When I was charged for one and a half hours, I didn’t argue, but I wondered that checking three wires leading from the sensor should be so difficult.

I took them at their word, and bought a used computer from a nearby junkyard once I was home. Upon installing it, it proved to fix the rough idle issue the car had experienced since I’d owned it, but did nothing for the crankshaft position sensor. It was a minor victory, at best. I traced the wires myself, taking twenty minutes or so, and found out the two signal wires went to the computer without showing faults. The twelve volt line, which I had been hoping the auto electrical people would have fixed, still had no power. I ran a wire from the battery to the sensor on that line to see if I could get the sensor to register, but with no luck, I’d tried my last experiment. I put everything back together, kept the new ECU in the car, and turned my attention to the O2 sensor. It was throwing a code for an O2 sensor heater, and I’d been reading that might explain my poor gas mileage.

I managed to get the old sensor out, and replaced it with a Denso which I’d been reading about online. The O2 sensor error went away, and the car seemed to run better, but I was faced with a decision about how to handle a car that no one seemed able to fix. My friend Tara had a quick fix. She proposed that I buy a Honda Fit, a model I had considered before. At six thousand dollars for a fifteen year old Fit, that notion is less attractive than it first seems. For one thing, all older cars come with problems, and in my case, the Civic at least always started and ran well. I thought back over my gas mileage, which was poor, but not strikingly bad compared to many of the SUVs on the road. My total mileage for a year is well under ten thousand kilometres, which means that I would have to spend around four to five hundred dollars extra for the poor mileage. Even if I didn’t fix the issue with the new O2 sensor, it wasn’t financially feasible to take the car to yet another garage to have them guess and be wrong. Nor did it make sense to buy another high-mileage Honda with another set of problems for six thousand. Such an expenditure would buy lots of gas for my current car.

In the end, the question is one of pragmatism. I decided I was worrying overmuch about the car’s problem with the crankshaft position sensor. That if an official garage couldn’t figure out what it was that I couldn’t be blamed for my similar failures. As well, I decided, if my twenty-three year old car died on the side of the road I wouldn’t be overly worked up, while a newer Fit would annoy me if it did the same. I decided I would live with the problem until it either cleared up on its own—unlikely, although my 81 Civic seemed to fix itself several times—or the car died of something far more fatal. Some aspects in our lives are just not worth the mental energy we put into them, and I had finally decided my car’s issues fit that category.

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Canada’s Difficulty with Reconciliation

The rediscovery of unmarked gravesites at the Kamloops residential school in the summer of 2021 brought a grisly history into the public eye. Although people had found bones on the site before, the use of ground penetrating radar went a long way to add colonial legitimacy to the first hand accounts from Indigenous people who were forced to attend the school as children. The radar signatures of a total of 200 corpses were found once the technology was brought to bear, and Canada once again was asked to reconsider its commitment to the assimilation project, as well as revisit the horror of their attempt at cultural genocide.

Of course not everyone viewed the event as significant, but unlike similar discoveries at former residential schools, the Kamloops announcement created a media storm and a public interest that led to investigations at dozens of other former school sites and the reports of thousands of potential grave sites. The media frenzy even encouraged politicians to set aside their customary neglect and pay lip service to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or at least tweet about the discovery and their surprise. Not surprisingly, Canada demanded some action, and the government with all the alacrity of a colonial enterprise confronted with its depredations created a holiday to commemorate the Indigenous children who were lost. The first instance of that new commemoration, September 30, 2021, was a significant moment for Indigenous people in Canada. As such, it should have been attended by the Prime Minister. When the English queen died, the Prime Minister of Canada could not wait to attend the funeral. How much more could the deaths of thousands of children at the hands of a brutalizing colonial government would inspire him to take the day seriously?

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops invited the Prime Minister to the ceremony to honour their dead, but Justin Trudeau did not attend. Neither did he send his regrets and explain that he was ill, or that his child was home with the flu. He didn’t plead urgent tasks that needed his attention. Instead, in a gesture which was widely interpreted to be a slap in the face, he flew to western Canada, and visited the popular resort town, Tofino, BC, and went surfing while residential school survivors mourned. This choice was widely regarded to be at best callous.

There is precedent for this staged neglect, however. When the Nishiyuu Walkers trudged through the winter from northern Ontario and arrived in Ottawa on 25 March 2013 to meet with then Prime Minister Steven Harper, he wasn’t on hand to greet them. Much to their dismay, he decided that his attention was better devoted to the arrival of two panda bears arriving at the Toronto Zoo. He made a speech celebrating the new agreement between China and Canada regarding the bears, and proclaimed how such a process fosters peace and understanding. This was a deliberate snub. Not bothering to greet the representatives of the Cree who were months traveling to meet with him proclaimed to his corporate base that he would not honour treaties or any agreements between Indigenous people and the government.

Despite how they might at first appear, neither Harper nor Trudeau’s dismissal of Indigenous people’s concerns are casual acts of microaggression. They are both deliberate and public gestures. Although I do not pretend to know what behind-the-scenes shenanigans would lead a public figure to so stain their legacy by an act of deliberate cruelty—what corporate masters they have to answer to who would fear a sudden flurry of land claims in the wake of any sense that the government cared about the concerns of Indigenous people—the facts of the matter remain. Instead of privately make their disdain known by pretending to be busy, instead of covering their disregard with pleasant lies about sudden responsibilities, both recent Prime Ministers chose to make it known to the Indigenous people—and more importantly, their colonial voters—what side they were on. They wanted to ensure that everyone knew that they would not cater to the requests of Indigenous people, regardless of how mild, and that on the contrary, their actions paint a portrait of arrogance and disrespect that speak more clearly than the insincere apologetic flourishes that would have been incorporated into their speeches on the subject.

Although Trudeau largely ran on the platform that his party’s relationship with Indigenous people would be strikingly different than Harper, for the Indigenous people of Canada, the distinctions are difficult to discern. He has made pretty sounds with his mouth, promised much and delivered little, and in that way has earned his spot in the endless parade of rich white men who have continued with business as usual in colonized Canada.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action have yet to make their way into public policy, and as far as anyone can tell, the colonial legacy of Canada is still grinding up the bodies of those the country is founded upon. This past Truth and Reconciliation day, September 30, 2022, Trudeau was eager to recover from past mistakes. The message had been sent, and it was now time to soften the blow with words.

Speaking at an event in Lebreton Flats west of downtown Ottawa, Trudeau said that “Reconciliation is not the responsibility of Indigenous Peoples—it is the responsibility of all Canadians. It is our responsibility to continue to listen and to learn.” This message was missing a year earlier, although he tried to make up for it by describing what action looks like in Canada: “On this day, which is also known as Orange Shirt Day, I invite everyone to listen to Survivors and learn more about the history and legacy of the residential school system by participating in a local event or wearing an orange shirt.”

Luckily for the colonials, he is not asking for Canadian citizens to do anything significant. If they but wear a shirt or attend a local event, they have done enough. The Manitoba Conservative Party agrees, even while they are actively planning to remove the statutory holiday status of Truth and Reconciliation day, they pose in the orange shirts of their commitment to fashion if not respect.

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Coming to Shore

If I were writing an elegy, I would say that the voyage has been a difficult one. I readied the boat, took down sails in the storms, and dropped anchor when arriving in the calm waters of the port.

Unfortunately, the sea has always been intemperate, and a squall has hovered on the horizon for many years. By times that has blown into a gale, but more often the wind dropped, and cloud cover prevented the use of a sextant. Lost with only a compass, I languished in the doldrums, patiently waiting for a catspaw of wind.

I now think it’s time to start the motor and go to shore. The boat is leaking, the sails are ripped, and I am running out of provisions.

The ghost ship I have seen through the fog has proven to be a mirage, and the green hills of pleasant valleys beckon like Crusoe’s footprint in the sand.

In the end, after the voyage is over, all we have left are the stories we tell about it.

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Buying an Academic Paper from Cheating Sites

Once students have exhausted the other plagiarism options, such as lifting material from online and cheating from their friend, like a moth to a flame they are drawn to paper-writer-for-hire websites. There they become ecstatic over promises to lighten their academic load by having an in-house essay writer take care of their assignments. The ads for such sites do not mention plagiarism, or cheating, but rather talk about the unfairness of the overwhelming work the student is asked to do and tantalizingly offer their services as a reasonable and economical alternative.

There are several important features the cheating student should check in the contract before they sign, however. They think that price is the only consideration, and in their naïve way they presume all writing is equal as long as the grammar is correct, but in fact they need to consider how the paper-writer-for-hire business might work, and who such businesses imagine to be their clients.

The audience for essay-writing sites is not the typical undergraduate student. Instead, like those who reply to spam emails, only the laziest or most witless students are drawn to cheating, and the builders of such sites know their demographic. They do not bother themselves with delivering a decent product for the price, but rather are concerned with pleasing the vacuous student who is paying the bill. Such companies rarely get repeat business. Their dimwitted clientele will shortly be expelled for other shoddy work if not the purchased paper, and once the student realizes they’ve been cheated with a terrible paper, they won’t likely return.

Therefore, the paper-writer websites need not worry about anything other than their paycheck for the paper in question. There are many more students where that one came from. This means that they don’t concern themselves with earning a good grade. In fact, the paper only has to be good enough to fool the student. Students who avail themselves of such services have already proven themselves to be lazy, and they are just as likely to be profoundly ignorant. The students pays the fee, the writers make sure it passes their weak scrutiny, and then it is handed in to earn a poor grade. Since the companies only need to please the student long enough to get paid, they are, as my Indian students say, “least concerned” with the grade the paper receives.

How the students imagine the system working is hard to understand. They probably honestly believe that there are people who waste their time researching and reading books merely to write a weak paper for them. They know so little about academic work that they think the hundred dollars they are paying would be a decent price for a writer, and that the research is either already at the academic’s fingertips or they can do it easily and well. They eagerly download the offered paper and rather desperately wait for the expected A.

The weak student does not realize that to write a decent paper the online essay-writers-for-hire would have to master the class material. The student hasn’t done that, obviously, and yet they imagine a stranger would be able to. The writers are simply not paid enough for that. Some of the earnings are going to the website and the remainder is a pittance. Because the writer earns so little for each paper, they take short cuts. They skim a Wikipedia article and a review describing the story, and then cobble together some ideas to generate a necessarily vague essay. They rarely incorporate quotes, since they do not have access to the original text and can’t be bothered to find it. Therefore, their quotes are poorly formed if they do exist, and sometimes come from other books by the same name.

Mostly the writers rely on paraphrase to provide academic support, particularly because in general they are more versed in humanities papers, and partially because they can’t be bothered to learn two formats where one will suffice. Most professors are happy their students are using any format, and they rarely question those who use a different one than what was requested. The use of paraphrase means that the writer doesn’t need to know the text, and when they use articles they can rely on the professor’s, or more importantly, the student’s lethargy. The student who is too lazy to write their paper is scarcely going to check the references in the paper written for them.

Such essays are always easy to recognize. They are frightfully vague (“As the story moves toward its climax the characters all change their way of thinking about the object of their desire”), and when they are specific, they are trite: “The protagonist is easily the most important character in this novel.” Research is often obscure, and based on a quick read of an abstract, and rarely includes quotes. Formats are often mixed, APA for the references page, MLA for quotes from the primary work, and APA for in-text paraphrases belonging to research articles. The papers rely heavily on summary, and the reader cannot help but think—as they read about what the characters were doing instead of what it means—that they wasted their time reading the original.

What makes the bought papers stand out the most, however, is that they typically do not include spelling errors or gross grammatical problems. The students who hand them in have already proven their incompetence on earlier assignments, and they offer their last paper as proof that they have jumped ahead by several grade levels. The papers are littered with literary terms that weren’t taught and such a weak student would not know, but unlike a real academic paper, nothing is done with the terminology. Rather it functions much as name-dropping does, just to astound the easily impressed student with their purchase.

In some ways, such a student is a pathetic figure. Not only are they so weak that they cannot do their own work, but they are so simpleminded that they think they have received good value from a plagiarism site. They pass the paper in gleefully, feeling they hopped a wall that better people than them cannot scale, and when they receive their failing grade they cannot imagine what could have gone wrong.

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Typhoid Mary

The case of Typhoid Mary—a name she hated—is a peculiar one in the annals of public health. We had surely had carriers like her before, those who never suffered from an illness they inadvertently passed on, but she was the first case which was positively identified and who responded in such a selfish way. When family members where she worked died, Mary never considered that it might be due to her. She was the cook in several wealthy family kitchens, and as one after another grew sick, she moved from house to house. Perhaps she never put the epidemiological information together, although she knew enough to move once there was typhoid in the house. Once she was traced, and informed that she as an asymptomatic carrier, she refused to give samples to authorities so they could confirm her disease carrying status. Eventually they arrested her as a public health threat, and although violently attempting to avoid capture, she eventually agreed to their dictates. After two years of experimentation and imprisonment she was told that she could never be involved in food preparation again.

She could have lived like that, or sought other jobs or training, but Mary felt she should be able to continue as a cook. She tried working as a laundress, but after an injury, and subsequent penury, she changed her name, which in the early 1900s was more easily done. She was known in the upper class circuits, so she worked in restaurants and hotels. When outbreaks of typhoid occurred, she quickly left the job for another one. Therefore she became difficult to trace. When they finally incarcerated her, in 1915, it was a life sentence. Although the legal underpinning of the sentence was flimsy, Mary Mallon spent the rest of her life incarcerated in a small cottage where she was offered a job as a technician by one of the doctors. She died still incarcerated.

The lesson that Typhoid Mary’s intransigence offers to us is her unwillingness to consider others over herself. Rather than protect the public, she refused both treatment and the admission that she was the carrier. She must have known on some level that she was to blame, considering that she was moving quickly enough after an outbreak, but she didn’t think anything should confine her movements.

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